inducting, orient(at)ing and pressur(is)ing

The new students arrive this weekend, and will have a week's induction. In the US, the same activities would be called orientation week. Better Half was saying that orientation is a very American word to him, which is interesting, considering that the verb orientate is more common in the UK.

Orientate is a back-formation--instead of being built out of a simpler word (orient) plus a suffix, it was built from a more complex word (orientation), and a perceived suffix was removed. The English Plus website takes a hard line on this:
At best, orientate is a back-formation used humorously to make the speaker sound pompous. The correct word is the verb orient.
Incorrect: Melanie is helping me get orientated to the new job.
Correct: Melanie is helping me get oriented to the new job.
Orientate is more widely accepted in the U.K. than in the U.S.A., but it should be avoided in any formal or standard writing.
I was reminded of this when Patty, an American in Surrey, e-mailed about the British using pressurise where Americans would use the verb pressure, as in:
Have you felt pressurised by a doorstep trader within the last 12 months? --Lincolnshire County Council poll
Some teachers claim they felt pressured to change grades --ABC-7 News Chicago
However, there are examples of felt pressured to in UK sources--for example the following from the BBC:
[about a Radio 1 survey of teens] Alarmingly the results also showed that 24% of respondents felt pressured to have sex for the first time, and that just over a quarter of all the people asked lost their virginity without using any contraception. --Slink, BBC online magazine for 13- to 16-year-olds
The OED lists the verb pressure as orig. U.S.. Their first quoted usage is from Raymond Chandler in 1939, but there is self-conscious (i.e. used in inverted commas/quotation marks) British usage noted from 1960. Pressuri{s/z}e is only used in the figurative sense from the mid-1950s. I should note that while I generally treat -ise forms as BrE and -ize as AmE, either is correct in British English, though people and publications have their preferences. I find that my students believe that -ize is not acceptable in British English. The British examples of this word in the OED have a (AmE) zee/(BrE) zed until the 1970s.

This pressure vs. pressuri{s/z}e dialectal difference only applies to the figurative sense of the verb, of course. Both Americans and British people pressuri{s/z}e vehicles' (AmE) tires/(BrE) tyres and other such things.


  1. Although orientate may be more British, the practice of adding redundant, unnecessary suffixes (?) seems to be epidemic in Canada, especially in corporate settings. Of course, I can't think of any right now but I know they irked me in the past. I admire your ability to simply report on usage without getting too prescriptive.

  2. Actually, what I meant to ask in the post (but forgot to) was whether British readers could think of any examples in which AmE has a more complex verb than BrE. Better Half, last night's Lovely Host, and I couldn't think of any, but LH complained of Americans making horrible verbs out of nouns. (She couldn't think of an example at the time, but I suspect it's things like impact that set her teeth on edge.) Converting nouns into verbs is pretty common in English, and not just American English and not just recently--for example today I've watered (plants), (BrE) hoovered/(AmE) vacuumed, dusted and showered--all denominal (i.e. derived from nouns) verbs of long standing.

  3. My wife, the Mississipian, works as the Nurse Educator (is responisble for the training of other nurses) at the local hospital here in N. California. She is driven to distraction by the fact that the new nurses have to be 'orientated' here and not 'oriented' as they would back in the South (US).

    As an engineer, I found it amazing that people could be 'pressurised' by salesmen. To me when something is 'pressurized' it has fluid pumped into it so that the internal pressure is higher than the pressure of the outside atmosphere. I just had visions of people being inflated like balloons while reading your blog.

  4. That word "pressurized" is like nails on the old chalkboard to me. My blood gets a little pressurized just thinking about it!

  5. One could just use "press" in some circumstances. "He has been pressing me to come to a decision." "He has been pressuring me to come to a decision." "He has been pressurising me to come to a decision." Soon, no doubt, "He has been pressurisating me to come to a decision."

  6. I can think of one counterexample: AmE burglarize vs BrE burgle.

  7. That's discussed in the acclimate/acclimati{s/z}e post's comments a few days hence. See it here.

  8. I have heard "orientate" enough times here in the US to make it one of my standard targets of derision. I can't decide whether I prefer "occidentate" (probably too reminiscent of cows' teeth), "orientificate" (with a nod to "pontificate"), or "borealate" (which is arguably too obscure).

    On balance, I probably lean most toward "orientificate", because its provenance is obvious enough to make it understandably a joke.

  9. How about "disincentivise" for "discourage"? The former is used in the UK, but I'm 90% sure it's a US coinage that has spread here with all the other business jargon. It was lampooned in British satire The Day Today, which had a spoof American reporter use "de-encouragise".

  10. Yeah, business jargon is just nasty and (usually) unnecessary whichever country it comes from.

    Though, to be fair to it (in spite of myself) disincentivi{s/z}e does mean something more specific than discourage--i.e. to discourage by removing the incentives to do something.

  11. The recent (and I'm talking last 10 years, perhaps) use of pressurized in UK English is an illiterate mutation of the language. It won't be long before someone who is 'pressurised' will be labelled with the adjective 'pressurisated'.
    Too much overinflation for me.
    p.s. - I'm English

  12. The reason American spelling differs so greatly from British dates back to Horace Mann and other 19th century educators who promoted a simplification of the spelling; hence in ex-colonies such as Canada and Australia, British spelling is still considered correct.
    All major dictionaries accept both forms so it comes down to personal preference. To say that 'orient' is the ONLY correct form is a great arrogance.

  13. "I find that my students believe that -ize is not acceptable in British English."

    To what extent do you think this is due to the Microsoft spell checker, which seems to have invented a general rule that (with specific exceptions) the Americans say "-ize" and the Brits say "-ise".

    What worries me is that people lack confidence about their own ability to spell and will rely upon arbitrary sources, e.g. Microsoft, out of convenience, thus establishing a majority usage which then is accepted as correct.

    I take the view that the majority usage is not always correct, if it has for no good reason taken over a perfectly good traditional usage.

  14. I don't think it has much to do with MS-Word spell-checkers, since on my UK version, it accepts both -ise and -ize. So, I don't think people aren't being 'corrected' out of using the zed/zee spelling. I believe it's that they know that the -ize version is the only version used in AmE, and they believe that if Americans use it, it must be "wrong" for BrE.

  15. I agree with your surmise, Lynne. However, I normally use Word97 and it doesn't accept sympathize, recognize etc as English (United Kingdom). However when I check on Word2003 it is as you say: it accepts either. Perhaps someone got there before me and complained.

    I would like to consult you if I may about another thing which bugs me. I am ready to be corrected, but I do recall that until at least the 1960s, it was normal to pronounce the years 1901 - 1909 without the use of "oh" to indicate the zero. Thus for example it was correct to say "Nineteen nine" for 1909.

    As I understand it, the "oh" came in to assist in spelling out telephone numbers. Phones were of course in use during the years in question, but old habits don't die easily.

    So I was interested to see how the years were pronounced in old films. In Colonel Blimp the "oh" was used and also in some documentary films of the Fifties. This has disproved my initial theory that the "oh" has come in because of computers and also the problem of how to pronounce 2001 - 2009 without ambiguity.

    When I trawled the Net to try and resolve it, most authorities stated that the "oh" was correct merely because it is majority usage. But I found instances of "nineteen-four" etc in the reminiscences of elderly negroes in the USA. Good enough for me.

    Except that Word97 spellchecker insists that Negroes be capitalized whilst Word2003 doesn't mind which way.

  16. "and also the problem of how to pronounce 2001 - 2009 without ambiguity."

    Well here in Ireland they are never called anything but "two thousand and one", "two rhousand and nine", and so forth. Not sure if British usage is similar.

  17. May I suggest the following:

    (1) see the 'Comments policy' (link in the left margin of the blog's homepage) on how to request new topics.

    (2) click on the 'numbers' and 'time' labels, further down in the left margin, to see previous blog entries about numbers and dates. Feel free to leave comments there that relate to those topics.

  18. Thanks Lynne. Sorry for the somewhat chaotic commenting to date. I may email you with suggested topics!

  19. Concerning "pressurized": are American aircraft cabins "pressured"?

    Concerning "orientating": in the U.S. are things "illuminated" or "illumined"?

  20. As it says at the end of the post, pressure is only used for figurative senses. So, like t{i/y}res, plane cabins are pressuri{s/z}ed.

    It's illuminated in both dialects.

  21. > It's illuminated in both dialects.

    (I've seen 'illumine' used in poetry.)

    So, is American impatience with 'orientate', which is constructed -- as far as I can see -- exactly the same way as in 'illuminate' (or indeed, 'alienate') unjustifiable?

  22. For a couple of years I worked in Sky Customer Services (British satellite broadcaster). We used to take a lot of calls about people's installations of course, and a worryingly large number of people spoke about the date their equipment was "installated."

  23. Why are people asking about words like "alienate" and "illuminate" in reference to "orientate?"

    All words evolve differently. Just because one word is pronounced one way doesn't mean that others will be the same. Besides, as mentioned many times, "orientate" is not particularly correct and is kind of a slang term that entered normal speech over time. Illuminate and alienate are words that simply make sense when spoken where anything else wouldn't work quite the same way. Is there even an alternative word to alienate that is commonly heard, and derived from alien?

    As for pressurize/pressured, in the American dialect pressurized would simply not make any sense at all. People would think you were crazy if you said pressurized when you meant pressured. As someone mentioned in the comments on another entry about the word "gutted," pressurize has a very specific meaning in American English and people may be disturbed if they heard it when the word should have been "pressured." "Pressurized" can imply "crushed" (literally) or imploded in the American usage. I can't think of any case where pressurize means anything other than the scientific sense of the word.

  24. Not sure how Brits can complain about American business-speak when they notoriously use the ridiculous (and ridiculous-sounding) "make redundant" instead of lay off, dismiss, terminate, fire, sack, downsize, or other more logical formations.

  25. Anonymous: on being "made redundant", it is due to UK employment culture. In the UK, if you are fired or sacked, it means you were bad at your job or committed some misdemeanor and therefore the employment was terminate. In our employment culture this would damage your employment record and reputation and it would be much more difficult to find new work after this has happened, and therefore could result in years of unemployment or financial ruin. However if you are "made redundant" then you were simply not required any more, and there is no slur on your character or ability, and finding new work is not especially hindered by the event.

  26. I may be wrong, but winding back 200 years or so ago, I think the verb was simply "press", and so there were "press gangs", and "pressed men" (conscripted) in the Navy. As this took on this rather specific meaning, I suppose a new verb was invented to retain the ability to use the more general sense. Another example of this could be "business", which took on a specific meaning, leaving us with people now resorting to the clumsy "busy-ness" when they still need to retain the original general meaning.

  27. We were taught factorisation for Maths at school. Apparently American Math students get taught factoring instead.


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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)